Great Barrier Reef authority warns that climate action is needed urgently

"Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the Reef."

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SOURCEEcoWatch
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia’s conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

The position statement issued by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is unequivocal in its stance that the climate crisis threatens the world-renown reef. It reads:

“Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the Reef. Further impacts can be minimized by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible and fast-tracking actions to build Reef resilience.”

Rising sea temperatures triggered by the climate crisis have decimated large swaths of the 1,400-mile reef, a UN World Heritage site that suffered back-to-back marine heat waves that triggered extensive coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017, as Agence France-Presse reported.

Despite the coral bleaching in the reef and the extensive drought and heat waves Australia has suffered, the country has set new emissions records for four straight years, as EcoWatch reported last week.

Experts say that trend shows no signs of slowing since the recently re-elected government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison will open up mines for the coal and liquefied natural gas industry.

Morrison and his government have refused to adopt emission reduction targets in line with the Paris climate agreement as part of its formal energy policy and experts doubt the country will honor its commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Marine Park Authority acknowledged that human-induced climate change has set the coral reef on a bad trajectory that cannot be stopped, but hopefully contained. “Further loss of coral is inevitable and can be minimized by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible,” the position statement reads.

The paper also highlighted how extensive bleaching will be if the world fails to meet the Paris climate targets to keep atmospheric temperatures from rising 2-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“Of particular concern are projections that the reef could be affected by bleaching events twice per decade by about 2035 and annually by about 2044 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate,” the authority said.

“If bleaching becomes more frequent and more intense, there will not be enough time for reefs to recover and persist as coral-dominated systems in their current form.”

The position statement called for immediate and urgent action to set forth policies that will limit the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It warned that a drastic reduction in carbon pollution is critical or reef-dependent activities such as tourism and fishing will suffer steep declines, according to the Guardian.

Environmental groups cheered the report and noted that a report from Morrison’s own government agency should prompt him to address the climate crisis.

“The prime minister, a former managing director of Tourism Australia, knows how critical the reef is to the tourism industry and to Australia’s international reputation,” said Imogen Zethoven, the strategic director at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, as the Guardian reported. “As the caretaker for the reef and a daily witness to its decline, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is crying out for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

She added that the government’s grant of over $400 million to the Great Barrier Reef foundation would be “wasted unless the Morrison government takes radical action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to save our greatest natural icon and the jobs it supports.”

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